Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875) was the eldest son of the better-known Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852), and after his father’s early death at the age of forty-one continued the practice until his own early death at the same age.
Augustus Pugin was inevitably a hard act to follow, and though his son’s designs are less intense Edward was prolific and his work is impressive. He designed over a hundred churches and a few secular buildings, and at the height of his powers he completed seventeen projects in the years 1865-68.
Nikolaus Pevsner identified E W Pugin’s “masterpiece” as All Saints’ Church, Barton-upon-Irwell (actually in Urmston, west Manchester). Paid for by the local landowner Sir Humphrey de Trafford, 2nd Bt (1808-1866) and his wife Lady Annette at a cost of £25,000, it was built in 1867-68 alongside the de Trafford family’s mortuary chapel (1863).
Edward Pugin had previously built another church for the de Traffords, St Ann, Chester Road, Stretford (1862-7), and within the same few years designed his Monastery of St Francis, Gorton (1866-72), larger in scale but coarser in detail because it lacked the generous funds provided by the de Traffords.
The exterior of All Saints’ echoes some of his other churches in the North West and elsewhere, with a nave and apsidal chancel and an elaborate bell-turret in the form of a flèche, set diagonally above the west front.
The interior is richly decorated and narrows towards the sanctuary, emphasising the height of the building. The nave columns are alternately banded with Runcorn red sandstone and buff Painswick stone, and the roof is made of English oak and Savannah pitch-pine.
To embellish the interior as the de Traffords required – “a grand church…erected to the glory of God” – Edward Pugin brought together craftsmen from his father’s favourite ecclesiastical artists, Hardman & Co of Birmingham, including J Alphege Pippett (1841-1903), whose ‘The Adoration of the Lamb’ on the south side of the chancel depicts the de Traffords accompanied by Edward Pugin in medieval dress holding a plan of the church.
The walls of the sanctuary are of Caen stone and the columns of Painswick stone; the floor is crimson marble and encaustic tile; the altar itself is built of Caen stone, finished with Carrara, Siena and Devonshire marble, with flights of angels standing on the alabaster tabernacle, its doors marked by a bejewelled cross.
The surviving nineteenth-century stained glass, disarranged as a result of Blitz damage, is by Powell & Hardman of Birmingham. The late-twentieth-century glass in the west rose window is unfortunate.
Sir Humphrey’s son and heir sold most of Trafford Park for £360,000 to Ernest Terah Hooley (1859-1947) who became known as “The Splendid Bankrupt”, but retained the western portion, including Barton, until 1924.
The canal bisected the parish, and the unpredictable closing of the Barton swing-bridge meant that parishioners were frequently delayed to the extent that it became impossible to fix Mass times precisely. The population gradually moved away: by the 1950s Catholic churches were opening on the new housing estates, and All Saints’ remained open only out of deference to an ageing congregation who had worshipped there all their lives.
All Saints’ finally closed as a parish church in 1961, and in September 1962 it was handed over to the Franciscan Friars Minor Conventual, who had provided priests for the parish since 1928. They renamed it the Church of the City of Mary Immaculate, but it is still commonly known by its original dedication. The church was listed Grade I on May 9th 1978.
All Saints’ isn’t easy to visit because the site is an operational friary. It’s open on an occasional basis, and it would be prudent to enquire about arrangements before visiting: https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/church/all-saints-friary-barton-upon-irwell. Though not as heavily atmospheric as Augustus Pugin’s masterpiece, St Giles’ Roman Catholic Church, Cheadle, Staffordshire, it’s a very beautiful building by a first-rate architect whose career stands in the shadow of his father’s work.